Saturday, April 30, 2005

Namsan: tales of near-death, fitness, and humidity

Today's walk featured a near-death experience: not mine, but that of some poor lady who was almost crushed by a speeding car. Fucking asshole driver. I was inclined to throw a brick at his rear window. It really was a close one, too-- the car screeched to a halt perhaps two feet away from the lady.

My walk also featured the usual loud whispers and unabashed remarks of "foreigner..." as I was walking past some folks on the stairs, and the amusement of the two adjoshis who run the concession/trinket stand at the top of the stairs, where I buy my ritual PowerAde. They know me very well by now, and noted how much sweatier I look nowadays. I told them I'd been coming up the stairs from Smoo lately, instead of taking my old wussy route from Beot'igogae Station and past the National Theater.

The main difference between the stairs route and my old route is that I've inadvertently added strength training to my regimen. Like so many stairs in Seoul, each step up Namsan is very short, almost as if the stairway had been crafted for midgets. Koreans, who really aren't much shorter than most Westerners (some folks claim they're the largest East Asians, though I don't know that for sure), somehow take the steps in stride-- no pun intended-- but they're a pain in the ass for me. Because the stairs follow the mountain's contours, they're also unevenly spaced and angled. Sometimes it's possible to tackle the steps two at a time; at other times you have to step up, bring your other foot to the same step, go one pace forward, then step up to the next step. The entire ascent takes about ten minutes, and you're constantly varying your pace, always a little off-balance.

I'm still making it to the top without stopping, though I can't say I'm going very fast. At some point, once I feel I've mastered the steps and made them a routine, I'll need to start experimenting with running up a flight or two, perhaps reaching a point (far, far in the future, mind you) where I can run up the entire stairway. But for now, my legs are trembling when I reach the top, and they're still trembling as I clump my way back down the stairs, post-PowerAde.

Looks like most of the cherry blossom petals have fallen away, and today felt positively summery. I've never been a fan of hot, humid weather. From now until about mid-October, life is going to suck. Korean summers are four months long, and so are the winters. But if last year was any indication, summer's gotten greedy and has extended its hegemony, China-like, to other parts of the calendar. We had too many warm days last November and December.

Back to our muttons: one of these days I'll photoblog the new route. In some ways, it's a lot more scenic, and it's certainly more exciting as a workout.


postal scrotum

Oh, I love this. Jason emails:


I'm proud to report that the Pig got an unwitting friend of mine tossed out of the Georgetown University library today.

Thank you, and God bless.


As a proud Hoya, I say: You're welcome. So is your friend. My little brother will be delighted to hear he's done some damage, and God knows Lauinger Library needs the occasional scream to shake up the soporific ambience.


Jung H. Lee on John Hick

A very interesting-- if typo-ridden*-- paper by a certain Jung H. Lee that critiques John Hick's pluralistic hypothesis from a Zen angle can be found here. The critique is consistent with my own imagined Zennist objections to Hick: I've argued that Zennists would complain that Hick's model includes a perforce ineffable, noumenal, an sich absolute reality, i.e., a reality that is completely unavailable to human experience/knowing. No Zennist can accept this.

Why? Because seeing with the "dharma eye" means seeing directly into the nature of reality. Such seeing is immediate, i.e., there's no medium, no subject-object metaphysics.

When you think about it, adherents of most if not all religious traditions would have a bone to pick with this aspect of Hick's model. Many Christians will grant that God is mystery, for example, but the Christian journey is one of entering into and communing with that mystery, not standing at an eternal remove from it.

Hick's model is quasi-Kantian in that it uses the language of noumenon and phenomenon, but it's also thematically Hindu, with parts of Hick's model corresponding to saguna brahman and nirguna brahman, i.e., absolute reality with qualities and without qualities. I'll have to study more about vedantic Hinduism because I'm not sure whether such Hindus believe nirguna brahman is available to human experience, or if the very label nirguna ("quality-less") implies its epistemological unavailability.

*The consistent and bizarre nature of some of the typos-- like replacing the letter "i" with the letter "f" in words-- leads me to believe this document was scanned into memory with the help of OCR (optical character recognition) software, then never looked at again. OCR is notoriously bad at rendering documents perfectly; someone should have taken the time simply to retype and proofread the original paper.


Friday, April 29, 2005

monkey curiosity

Whatever you do, do not click on this link. Because then you might be tempted to click on the pig. And if you click on the pig... something very bad will happen.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

(I have to thank my little brother David for the above.)

UPDATE: From reader Jason comes this link, on which you probably shouldn't click.


droid rage

General Grievous wasn't interested in resolving differences through frat-style drinking games.


postal scrotum: Nutella redux

This is part of an email that came in from a good friend of mine:

Nutella-- the unexpected taste.

I have seen Nutella for sale many times. Two of my local grocery store chains stock it. Nevertheless, I have never purchased a sample because the name seemed stupid to me. Given that there are so many food items to buy and try, I sometimes make decisions based upon no good reason, and this was a poor enough reason to be good enough for me.

After reading your post about the aforementioned food-like item, I decided to reconsider my previous lack of consideration and give it a try. I began by acquiring a small jar of Nutella and some plain wheat bread. I do not much care for refined white sandwich bread and processed wheat has enough flavour to be tasty, yet is mild enough not to impair or mitigate the flavour of a food-like topping. After smearing a generous helping of brown mystery goo upon a slice of bread, I bravely chomped away.

The delightful taste that filled my mouth was almost shocking. Not because of its nutty yet chocolatey flavour, nor for any other quality instrinsic to the substance was I caught by surprise. I was surprised because I knew this taste, and knew it well. As a wee lad living for four years in the Germanies, I had eaten this.

I speculate that the flavours that one encounters as a child, when the palate is virginal and untrained, are burned somehow into the bestial hindbrain. Those items which assault and offend the youthful palate become repulsive on a fundamental level to the adult. Similarly, those things which were pleasurable to the youthful palate become ingrained in such a way that they are instantly recognised after decades of absence.

So it was with me and my Nutella experiment. The taste of it sent electrochemical pulses ringing through sensorial and memory lobes of my brain, dislodging the dust of years in their passing and uncovering for me one of the rare treasures of my childhood-- a happy memory.

You have my heartfelt thanks, good sir.


Smoonooz: another no-show

My third class of the day neglected to show up again. So far, I've seen only one student from that class: she showed up last night for the makeup session I'd scheduled, so I have evidence that the class does, in fact, exist. Because she was the only student, I didn't even bother with the lesson, preferring to spend the time engaged in "free-talking," which is a euphemism for "lazy teaching strategy" since the only pedagogical requirement is the ability to sustain a conversation with someone of lower English ability for an hour. Not even yours truly is introverted enough to fuck that up.

The first two classes were a trip, though. Students seemed happy; the first class was a barrel of laughs, and the second class, which is less energetic than the first, gave off a warm (if not exactly bumpin') vibe. I've decided to appreciate this slow start to my year at Smoo. It gives me a chance to soak in the campus ambience, learn a bit about the neighborhood, and generally settle in to a new pace of life.

And now I'm off to Namsan, having missed yesterday due to makeup courses and lack of sleep. Fantastic day for a short hike.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

postal scrotum

Porn star Lance Manyon writes:

re: link

Timing is everything, and timing is something over which no one can confidently and consistently claim mastery. Those that show better luck in this regard are perhaps more optimistic about their accounting (e.g.) counting total 'hits' could be more compelling than 'batting average', if that kind of thing is important to you. Then again even purists sometimes feel like chucking the fundamentals when overcome by the desire and thrill of ripping for the fences. Silly analogy, I know, but the point is somewhere there I think.

I guess we all get a little down on ourselves when we're in a batting slump and our wank-banks are dry; doesn't help that everyone else seems to have an opinion/solution that may be more than a little condescending or patronizing, including yours truly.

Then again I'm still thinking about the clause, "...his wife ran away with another woman." Mmmmmmmmm hhhhnnnhnhnnnnhn, oh yeah baby!

Yes I have a tendency to miss the point.


Lance Manyon


impossible budae-jjigae and other Smoonooz

One strange, Twilight Zone-ish quirk about the Smoo neighborhood: it seems that a lone man in search of a ribsticking bowl of budae-jjigae must abstain until he finds a friend. Budae-jjigae, if my unscientific research tonight is correct, is served only as ee-een-boon, or "for two," in this area. I've never heard of that before. And the price for a single is, at some places, a ridiculous W6000, which means you and your friend have to pay a minimum of W12,000. What gives?

I was the rude foreigner at one restaurant I visited. When the smiling lady told me that their budae-jjigae was "for two only," I groused, "That's what the other restaurant said," and immediately went back for my shoes, very likely confirming to the patrons just how uncouth we foreign fuckers are.

Some good news in my day:

1. I survived what was essentially a hagwon-style schedule today, teaching for six-and-a-half hours. This was by choice: because of my Osaka trip, I had to cancel Wednesday classes. I unilaterally rescheduled them all for Thursday afternoon, having obtained grudging approval, on Monday, from a handful of students to do this. My purpose was to get the agony over with, and now it's done.

2. Drama class had three students: one from the previous lesson (the painfully shy one; the other girl had gone missing), and two newbies. All of them caught on quickly as we did some "trust" exercises: one partner guided their "blind" partner through an obstacle course of chairs by holding on to them; this morphed into guiding a partner through the course by giving verbal commands; this culminated in doing the obstacle course by having the "blind" partner follow the sound of the other's voice through the course. It was amazing to watch, and the painfully shy student, SJ, actually seemed to be enjoying herself. We ended the class with some rudimentary Reader's Theater-style script readings, to give the students an idea about pronunciation, enunciation, intonation, body language, and other aspects of line delivery. I have high hopes that this class will be chock-full of new registrants when we start the next semester. And hey, if some of the students in this class re-sign, tant mieux.

3. The makeup classes went better than I thought they'd go, even though very few students showed up for them. As noted before, students have gone missing because of various calendar-related obligations, among them midterm exams and something called "leadership training," which might involve the mastery of probing techniques normally associated with alien abductions.

4. M was right: the teacher who I thought would give me trouble has turned out to be quite a nice lady. I stand corrected and hereby repent of my hasty judgement.

5. I'm gonna get some real sleep tonight. Joy.


romance à la Smallholder

Here's the half-remembered transcript of a phone conversation I once had with the father of one of my little brother's friends. The topic somehow got around to girlfriends. The last time I'd seriously dated was years earlier, in the mid-90s, back when I was living in Korea.

Mr. X: Got a girlfriend?

Me: Nah, not right now.

Mr. X (sounding remarkably Korean in his blunt rudeness): Why not?

Me (half-facetiously): Just looking for the right woman, I guess. I'm picky. Trying to be careful--

Mr. X (totally out of the blue): Yeah, and look where that's got you. No woman! No nothing! What a fine method, being careful!

[end transcript]

Here's the thing about Mr. X: he was married, but his wife ran away with another woman. Yeah, his method worked just fine, too, didn't it? Fucking dick.

The flip side to "he who hesitates is lost" is "look before you leap," neither maxim being any wiser than the other.

I'll make my own mistakes. Thanks, in the meantime, for the unsolicited advice.


Ave, Julie!

The ImpQueen writes a profound and moving post here.

I'm not sure why, but I'm reminded of Margaret Edson's excellent play "W;t" (pronounced "wit"), which chronicles the final days of a stern English professor with stage-four ovarian cancer. I bought "W;t" and read it several times before I saw Judith Light perform it at the Kennedy Center in DC. Call me soft, but the play (which won a Pulitzer) moved me to tears, both when I read it and when I saw it.

Another meditation on death and dying comes to mind: Dr. Sherwin Nuland's direct but compassionate How We Die, which I think should be required reading for anyone over 15. The book deals unflinchingly with the most common ways Americans die, digging into the biological processes and bringing up some wholesome-- if not exactly romantic-- conclusions.


evil adipose returns to the
Land of the Morning Calm

I did manage to meet up with the infamous Justin Yoshida at Osaka-Kansai International Airport after getting my spanking new visa. Justin's on his way to Thailand, where he'll be claiming all the Buddhist temples as Japanese cultural artifacts (this despite his not being a Japanese national).

Aside from meeting Justin, the most memorable thing about Wednesday was staring at a white woman's very shapely ass while at the Korean Consulate. She was wearing purple pants, and that was something of a downer because I started to think her ass was grape-flavored-- a gigantic, buttock-shaped Gummi treat.

But now I'm back in Seoul, dealing with a pile of spam in my Gmail trash folder*. This should be the last visa run for a year. I'm at a job that promises to treat me humanely, living in digs I find reasonable, and thoroughly enjoying the curricular leeway I've been given.

*NB: those of you who don't type "hairy chasms" in the subject field of your emails make it difficult for me to distinguish your mail from the trash... my tendency is to want to delete everything I see in the trash folder. Help me out, please, and follow the email policy in my sidebar. Muchas Jerry Garcias.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Osaka again

An email from my mortal enemy Justin Yoshida confirmed that relevant train service from KIX (Osaka-Kansai International Airport) to Namba Station won't be interrupted, despite Monday's horrifying train accident. I should be able to do my visa run tomorrow without incident.

Let's keep those tentacles crossed and hope for more good weather tomorrow. It's been an amazing run of beautiful spring days thus far, and I could do with an incident-free flight through clear, untroubled skies.

Will be back Wednesday evening, probably around 11PM, Seoul time. Thursday promises to be a hellish day: I'll be teaching six classes-- three morning/afternoon classes, plus three makeup classes. Not gonna be pretty. Am finishing up lesson plans for those classes tonight.

Since I'll be gone all day Wednesday, this will be a great time for stalkers to come out of hiding and smear their feces on my door. I want cryptic, half-literate feces-messages, people-- something on the order of that Konglish sentence I blogged about long ago:

"My castrate are causal line the 2 and Word."

Hard to beat, but that's your homework. Now get butt-crackin'.


postal scrotum: Bush and North Korea

Andy writes:

Hi Kevin,

Congrats on the job. Sorry to hear about the married cutie. Cool beans about your mom's letter.

Re: Bush & NK. My thoughts:

On one hand, now seems like a good time to bring NK to the front of the world stage:
a) With Communist China wanting to be an adult in the world stage - and pissing about Japan - now is the time to put adolescent Communist China on the spot. Make Communist China prove adulthood by cleaning up a messy place in their hemisphere - not simply invading it.
b) The world pissed and moaned about intervention in Iraq, but today the Middle East is falling into line and is *worlds* better than the news will readily admit.

Reasons that *finally* confronting KJI could be bad:
a) No one cared about Mugabe's atrocities in Zimbabwe, so why should NK be any different? Which is a great question for folks to answer as a logic exercise.
b) The US can't take over NK by itself after Iraq - it's military is too tired, too thin (if Clinton hadn't decimated the armed forces: quite possible, but I digress).
c) The world is busy dealing with the usual other crap: Russia/USSR dissolution woes continue, the EU still needs fixing, and the Portland Trailblazers have a Korean basketball player but not even folks living in town know (or care) about this.


The Marmot's got a good post about the issue here.


undramatic drama and other subjects

Except when leaping of its own accord, a tarantula isn't programmed to know what to do when all eight of its legs leave contact with the ground. If you know how to pick a tarantula up (and I do because I owned four of them as a kid), you'll notice its remarkable "default" setting: once off the ground and pinched between your thumb and index finger, the spider curls its legs defensively and does nothing else, attempting to present as small a target as possible to potential predators.

People are occasionally prone to acting like tarantulas when confronted with extremely foreign situations, slipping into neutral gear and waiting for the environment to present more favorable conditions.

One of my students today, SJ, was like this, nearly impossible to prompt into motion. SJ had signed up for my drama class, and was one of only two students. The other student, C, who'd done a little theater before, seemed to slip right into the rhythm of my lesson, but poor SJ was timid as hell and spoke very little English. When she did speak, she was barely audible, and I got the impression she was having second thoughts about signing up. It's going to be hard to maintain a decent energy level in the classroom if there are only two students, but I heard from the office that more students might be on the way. That'd be great, because with SJ's lack of responsiveness, today felt like a bit of a failure.

My other classes also have produced a mixed vibe. I think my first Mon-Wed-Fri class is perky and receptive to my teaching style, but the class following it strikes me as harder to motivate. I have no idea what my intermediate-level conversation students are like, since none of them showed up on Monday. Today's reading comprehension class seemed to go well, though some students felt the reading material (an online article about the Monday train wreck in Japan) was too difficult. I'm still in "you can't please everybody" mode, but will proceed with caution. It's a low-level reading comp class, and I don't want to overload them.

One student in the reading comp class also works at my office's front desk. I suppose she can now report everything I do in class, which means I need to be on my best behavior.

My 90-minute low-level conversation class today was a bit slow and rough, with students trying to speak to me in Korean. I had a chance to talk with them about "active vocabulary" versus "passive vocabulary"-- terms I whip out whenever I hear students voicing frustration about their inability to produce a wide variety of utterances even though they understand such a variety. I made it clear that the only solution for their woes was practice, practice, practice: you can't learn to produce language if you don't practice producing it. Listening isn't going to help you much, because listening and reading are all about building passive vocabulary. Active vocabulary is a whole different library, with only a tenuous connection to the passive. The students seemed to get what I was saying (I was pantomiming and drawing a goofy active/passive bar graph on the board), but I don't know how reassured they were.

Overall, I can't complain about my classes. No one has been overtly hostile. Most students have gone along with my corny jokes and gotten into the group work and other drills we do. Only my drama class worries me; I hope we get a few more students. Koreans are very good about teamwork, and students like the timid, inaudible SJ need a lot of peer support.


Monday, April 25, 2005

woeful intel

My sources have come through.

The cute teacher is married.

Well, like I said, it's better to find out sooner.

Damn, damn, dammit.


Bush and North Korea

I'll be interested to see where this goes. Some snippets:

The Bush administration, facing a series of recent provocations from North Korea, is debating a plan to seek a United Nations resolution empowering all nations to intercept shipments in or out of the country that may contain nuclear materials or components, say senior administration officials and diplomats who have been briefed on the proposal.

The resolution envisioned by a growing number of senior administration officials would amount to a quarantine of North Korea, though, so far at least, President Bush's aides are not using that word. It would enable the United States and other nations to intercept shipments in international waters off the Korean Peninsula and to force down aircraft for inspection.

But, said several American and Asian officials, the main purpose would be to give China political cover to police its border with North Korea, the country's lifeline for food and oil. That border is now largely open for shipments of arms, drugs and counterfeit currencies, North Korea's main source of hard currency.

Curiouser and curiouser. The idea of sidling up to China, nudging it with an elbow, and whispering, "Pssst-- want to get in on some anti-NK action?" strikes me as some strange diplomacy. I wonder where, exactly, it would leave South Koreans, who currently maintain a mishmash of inconsistent geopolitical views, including these two:

1. We love China and hate America (obviously this is more rhetoric than truth, but it's possible to reach a saturation point where rhetorical memes come to influence/dominate policy).

2. We love North Korea as our brothers (again, the truth is more complex than this, but this is definitely a current slogan).

If the beloved China and hated America team up to stir the shit against the beloved North, will Koreans' view of China darken? Truth be told, I find that unlikely right now. And again: the rhetoric masks the complexity of the reality. Even anti-American Koreans who pay public lip service to the notion of brotherhood with North Korea will, in private moments, acknowledge that the brotherhood issue is problematic. As with West Germans who didn't look forward to the economic hardship of reunification, many South Koreans actually dread the prospect of reunification.

Back to Bush for a moment: is the man finally trying to shake NK's tree? As Kevin of Incestuous Amplification pointed out so long ago, Bush's actual policy toward NK hasn't had much of a bite to it. This flaccidity had many pundits puzzling, pre-Iraq War, over why he was more concerned with the Middle East than with NK, a country that may in fact present a far greater danger to the US. Is Bush using his second term to redress that perceived error? Is the timing on this appropriate?

If you have insights, please write in.


thanks, Mom

In an email titled, "Make a difference at my old school!", my mother writes:

Dearest Kevin,

Congratulations! How exciting! We are all happy for you. Church people, my Washington Korean Women Society members, and your brothers are happy for you.

I have no doubt that you will make the biggest difference in that school's English department. I am sure that you are in brainstorm mode for that drama class. Kevin, please do your darnedest. Please do remember not to use dirty(bad) language or rough slang with your students in Korea.

Melinda M, the church office manager, wants to know the name of the school etc... she said that many people ask about you. So I am sending an e-mail to the church office today. [Pastor C.] went to Israel and Jordan and when he returns we will have a big going away party. Write him a little note when you can.

I hope you are sleeping well this hour. Dress smart, shine your shoes and have fun and most of all "PEACE."

God bless


um ma

It was a great way to start a Monday. In reality, though, my Monday was simply an extension of Sunday: beginning-of-semester nerves kept me awake until 5AM, and I slept only for an hour, trusting that my alarm clock would be loud and obnoxious enough to rouse me from jittery, discontented pre-REM sleep.

I've planned out my six weeks of teaching, and all that's left is daily lesson planning, a task made much easier by the fact that I've mapped out how every single day should generally go. I've included little hitches in the calendar like Children's Day (a national holiday), my trip to Osaka, and make-up classes.

I got to my building way early: about 6:45AM. No one was in the office when I arrived, and in my mentally scattered state I had trouble figuring out how to make double-sided (ap-dui, literally "front-back") copies. Later in the day, I asked an office staffer how to do it. She said, "You have to copy one side, then run those copies through again to print the other side."


I found my attendance sheets, which didn't make any sense to me until A, another Western teacher who'd arrived scarily early, helped me out with them. Because this department divides a standard semester into two halves, I have to keep the current attendance sheets and use them until I run out of space. I can request reprints, but A said I'd probably have to re-mark all absences and late arrivals on the reprinted forms. Sounds like a hassle. Now I'm conflicted: my urge to be neat is clashing with my urge to be lazy about administrative paperwork.

I had three classes today, and had been warned that, because we are technically mid-semester, absenteeism would be high, then would be high again toward the end of the term. In true hagwon style, our department doesn't give grades, per se, although students receive homework assignments and take quizzes and tests. Matriculation to a higher level is determined through a combination of test scores and personal assessments by the teacher, almost as if these were credit courses using a pass/fail system. The problem is that if you don't teach a course for credit, students often have trouble dredging up the motivaton to attend class, especially when they have tests and papers in other classes to worry about. Several teachers I spoke with made this point, and it's something I'm familiar with from working at regular hagwons.

The upshot of the above is that I had only four students attend my first class of the day, most of them arriving late and confused about classroom numbers. My second class of the day had five students, and my third class had... no one.

Thus, I waited (A waited, too: she'd had quite a few students in her earlier classes, but no students in her third class, so we talked a bit). A said we had to wait only 20 minutes, and if no one showed up, we were free for the rest of the hour. Since that was my third and last class, I was free for the rest of the day, except for office hours. I've been told that students don't tend to visit teachers during their office hours, which I suppose leaves me free to hobnob, do paperwork, and try to look busy.

I'd intended to keep office hours from 11:15 to 2PM today, but was simply too tired. I went back to my place for a much-needed siesta, barely able to dredge up the energy to say hello-and-goodbye to the cute teacher in the office before schlepping on home.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

Namsan: the alternate route

too bad I can't blog the smell

Do I look like someone who's just been up Namsan? Oh, good. Because that's indeed what happened.

Found an alternate route today: I can walk to Seoul Tower from my doorstep in under 50 minutes. Unfortunately, this means taking the stairs in that final stretch up to the tower, but it appears that, if you hit the stairs at a steady, plodding pace, your misery lasts only about ten to fifteen minutes.

The route from my door starts with a steep, concrete-slathered hill. This widens out until you hit a main road, pass a golf practice area, go through a tunnel, walk along a back street, then eventually find yourself walking past the Hilton Hotel, past the T'oegyero entrance, and up to the Namsan Library. From there, you're passing the mini-zoo, the botanical garden, and going up the Stairs from Hell.

I'm still able to do it without stopping, though, which is nice.

Doing this route every day will be a marked improvement over doing my normal route, for two reasons: (1) the steep climb gets your heart going and conditions your legs and other muscles, and (2) because I'm walking straight from my domicile, there's no longer a transportation cost. Free-- the best price of all, oui?

Oh, yeah-- here are some quirks about my place:

1. I guess it's because of the way the pipes are designed, but my kitchen sink gurgles and coughs violently whenever the 5th-floor washing machines are in their spin cycle, evacuating water. It's hilarious, though I can imagine it being a downer to have your candlelight dinner punctuated by the sounds of a building's borborygmus.

2. My room is directly over the concierge. I feel sorry for the guy every time I take a noisy shit. He's got to deal with the hollow poot and plop noises, followed by my toilet's flushing. I'm not ashamed, just feeling sorry about the shitty situation.

Final note: on the way back down the hill and not long before approaching the Hilton Hotel, I saw a cute little whitewashed building, quasi-European in style, that advertised itself as "Sole," an Italian restaurant. I'm going to check it out once I've got some cash. Maybe it'll be a find; maybe it'll be a nightmare. Or maybe it's closed for renovation and I somehow missed the sign.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday. I stink and need a damn shower.


my schedule

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays:

Rudimentary-level English Conversation

Rudimentary-level English Conversation

High-intermediate-level English Conversation

On Tuesdays and Thursdays:

Low-level Reading Comprehension

Rudimentary-level English Conversation


English through Drama

That last class is likely to be my favorite. I hope enough students have signed up for it.

Our department doesn't move to quite the same calendar-rhythm as the rest of the university. The fall and winter terms, for us, are 12 weeks and 8 weeks long, respectively. These are subdivided into two 6-week and two 4-week terms. I'm starting in the middle of the spring term, which is called "Spring 2" here, and I've been told that mid-semester enrollment is usually pretty low, which is why my Mon/Wed drama class was cancelled.

The up-side is that I'll be teaching only 17 hours a week, plus 5 office hours, which I'll gladly give the university since they have decent computers.

I haven't even started teaching, and I already love this job.


give yourself to the Dark Side

I suppose I should mention this blog by none other than Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, since I've now been made aware of this link from three different sources (thanks to the Maven, to Justin, and to Jason W):

The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster

Here's a nice snippet:

It is not the sort of thing people think about, but I do not get many opportunities to see any living world at the level of the street. I see worlds from balconies, from shuttles, through the reinforced windows of Imperial garrisons...

Sometimes it just feels good to get a little warm sun on my helmet.

Go and enjoy.


my digs

Here's a photo tour of my new home. About as interesting as watching me pluck my pubes, but at least you won't have to fantasize about what's in my residence-- i.e., whether I now have a heart-shaped vibrating bed, etc.

We'll start outside, with this badly composited photo of Smoo's International House 2.


Next, a closeup of the sign that'll allow all you stalkers to find me:

Smoo 2:  The Revenge of the Labia

With that big Roman numeral 2, I feel like I'm living in a sequel. Next up-- a look downhill.


In the following photo, you see the stairs up to my place.


One thing I like about my new place: it's nondescript. Another thing I like: mine is the only residence on my side of the stairwell. The other four dorm rooms on this floor are all next to each other. I'm the only one who can have loud, screeching, splattery sex without waking everyone up.

Image hosted by

A closeup of my room number:

ee-baek-il ho

They haven't stuck a name in my nameplate yet.

In the next pic, you get your first peek inside:


We then turn around, look down, and see shoes.

kudu, shimbal, deung

Right next to the front area is the bathroom.

les chiottes

Here's my dining area. I've got a real table now:

salle à manger

My new computer area has a bookshelf, which makes life easier for me.

desk of doom

We turn around and get a look at the kitchen, from which I'll be foodblogging:


Another bookshelf, and my clothes:

let 'em hang

The view out of the window above my bed:

Image hosted by

Maybe I will have to be careful about sex noises because, when you look out, you see this:

il y a du monde au balcon, hein?

And this:

is this what Samuel Beckett saw out his window in Paris?

The following is the view out my front door and through the window to the outside world:

when do we escape?

So there we are. My new digs. They're over twice as big as my old digs back when I was with EC. And the building's got a huge storage area in the basement, so I was able to unload most of my unnecessary crap down there.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

le parcours

Daehee, who switched from taekwondo to boxing, has a great meditation on boxing's superiority. I've heard from other martial artists that a boxer's endurance training, and the punching techniques he learns, are not to be underestimated.

The strangest Pope-related blog post you'll ever read.

Rory's post on drinking reminds me of those detailed "how to fasten your seatbelt" lectures given on airplanes while taxiing to the runway.

Andi, who's soon to stop blogging as she pursues the path of a Buddhist nun, has been throwing down some serious posting lately. Try this one on happiness. Or this one on Buddhist ordination. Or this one on monasticism.

Going a different route, Wooj lays out the strange inner workings of his family, all of whom seem to be very frank about his porn addiction.


the Pope and interreligious dialogue

My buddy Mike wrote me an email that contains some very astute remarks about the Pope and interreligious dialogue. I began by writing Mike an emailed reply, then decided the reply was worth blogging.

Mike wrote (in part):

What really is the end game to interreligious dialogue? I am happy to have good relations with people of different beliefs. I am also happy to treat them with respect and civility. I also don't want to be outwardly mean to them because of their religious convictions.

But other than that - what is the purpose? Not that those traits are not worthy goals in and of themselves...

What happens when you agree to treat others well and with respect and not harrass them due to their religious beliefs?

There is nothing to happen really. If you believe in something, from a religious perspective (and presumably religious leaders do), you are assured that your faith is correct.

I think this is related to an interesting point brought up by Benedict before his election. The whole relativism thing. You can be polite and respectful, but in the end (if you are a true believer) someone is going to have to be right and someone is going to have to be wrong. If "your" way and "my" way have equal worth (and potentially and equal outcome) - then what is the point of having two different ways?

This is why when then-Ratzinger said that other faiths are flawed (I forget his exact language) I wasn't surprised. What else could he have said? If he had come out and said that Episcopalianism was just hunky-dory and all those Anglicans are just as likely to get to heaven as a Catholic - why be Catholic? (I'd choose cake over death myself...)

Your points are well taken.

Many people question what dialogue is all about. The fact is that there's no single agreed purpose for dialogue. The previous pope saw dialogue as part and parcel of an overall theme of his papacy: reconciliation. This is, in fact, how he was perceived by many of his non-Catholic interlocutors, which is what made a document like Dominus Iesus so disappointing to them. It was not so much that the document's content was new or shocking, but that it really seemed to be a major step backward for the Vatican to have released such a declaration after all of JP2's efforts as, among other things, "the Pope of Apologies."

On the more abstract level: interreligious dialogue can be a tool serving many purposes. As my former CUA classmate C pointed out, Muslims do talk about dialogue, but they understand it as a mere means to conversion. Something of this same spirit is present in the Dominus Iesus document, but not nearly so visible in the older Nostra Aetate from Vatican 2.

Interreligious dialogue as I and many others understand it, however, is more "irenological"-- i.e., more about the promotion of peace and religious harmony to quell religiously motivated conflict. Such conflict is, we have to admit, the sad norm in much (if not most) of the world.

However, one of the uncomfortable discoveries awaiting many people who come to the table of dialogue is that the interlocutor across from them isn't always intent on merely listening, but on forwarding an agenda. There are no objective standards to go by when it comes to the purpose of dialogue: there's no declaration from a cosmic referee that "Thou shalt only dialogue for peace." This makes life interesting. The potential for talking past each other is great.

A specific example of this disconnect is the mini-scandal behind the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions (see a Wikipedia entry here). Most of the religious folks who attended and participated in the Parliament were-- you guessed it-- religious liberals. What happened to all those religious conservatives who constitute the actual majority of religious adherents in the world? Where were they when this marvelous event was happening?

Actually, a few evangelicals who did attend the Parliament voiced their disgust re: the above. I think they were largely ignored, which is too bad. I'm no fan of exclusivism or hard-line religious conservatism, but the cavalier dismissal of religious conservatives in the context of interreligious dialogue is disturbing to say the least.

You're right, though, in saying that the adoption of a clear, specific position means that some will be "right" and some will be "wrong," and if one is to follow that line of thinking honestly and sincerely, then one inevitably has to declare openly that some are right and some are wrong. Every definite position contains its own exclusivism-- even religious pluralism can't escape this fact.

For myself, though, I question the necessity of traditionally exclusivistic declarations because of the ills they tend to produce. I also think that history is on my side in this: religious conflicts erupt in areas where one or both parties in a religious dispute have clear-- not muddied or syncretistic-- stances. Part of the reason Islam is so problematic today is that it has an obsession with religious clarity-- shari'a edicts are formulated to apply to every little aspect of a devout Muslim's life, almost down to the direction in which you're supposed to wipe your ass. A Muslim is rarely in doubt about what to do or think in a given situation. Scriptures are open to interpretation, but just as the Catholic Church has a whole wing devoted to Canon Law, so Muslim communities have their imams and other authorities to settle disputes and quell doubts.

It occurs to me that my scientific bias is showing. Science seeks answers, but it uses a methodology that accommodates-- even welcomes-- doubt. I appreciate this and want to see more of that attitude in religious discussion. In science, dogmas are to be challenged; hypotheses get revised; theories are trashed-- and this happens because the yardstick is conformity to objective reality. One thing the major religious traditions share with science is the conviction that there is an objective reality. But leaving room for doubt is, I think, vital for religions and interreligious dialogue, especially in an increasingly interconnected world. Technology is forcing us all to think pluralistically, like it or not. Tolerance is a good option in a pluralistic environment, but many people don't choose the tolerant road, preferring instead to continue the old game of declaring their in-group's superiority. I don't know how long we can keep doing this without something vast and terrible happening at some point. For right now, I suspect that if something were to happen, the source would be Islamic. But in the future, who knows?

Anyway, you've given me many things to think about. Thanks.


postal scrotum

Mark writes:

Hi Kevin,

Glad to hear your job/Osaka flight, et al, is working out (although I find Fukuoka to be cheaper and cooler than Osaka, imho).

Anyhow, I think the first Bul Dalk place in Korea was the Hong Cho Bul Dalk place in Hongdae (it was certainly one of the first). It has been around for a couple of years. I remember when it was the only place in Hongdae... Now I think there are 12 such places here. Maybe more. All over the damn place. People have even started opening Bul Sam (Samgyeopsal) and other meats restaurants.

Btw, most health clubs are 80,000 won these days. Or so. 60-80K, anyhow. Prices are up up up.

Oh, also imho, I think Imwangsan is a much cooler climb than Namsan. Better scenery and much quieter. Bukhansan has some great peaks on the west side, too.

Have you ever had Japanese Sochu? While in Japan, I highly recommend going to a Haitai (pojangmacha) and having a big glass of sucho on the rocks... I think it is how Soju was supposed to be, 100 years ago. Crisp and clean. Very yummy. If only you drank.

Blah blah blah. Have a good one.


re: health clubs

Yeah, many are that expensive, but even in Kangnam it's not uncommon to find clubs that charge you W120,000 for a 3-month membership, or W50,000 on a month-by-month basis. I was surprised to hear about such cheap gyms in Kangnam, of all places, but a couple teachers from EC found gyms like that. The gym I went to in 2003 was also charging W40,000 a month. True, it was pretty small, and not doing great business. Maybe the larger gyms all charge steeper rates. Certainly the gyms frequented by people like Lee Hyori aren't cheap.

re: bul-tak

Thanks for the correction re: the history of the asshole-exploding chicken.

re: going to Fukuoka as opposed to Osaka

The problem is that the Fukuoka consulate doesn't do same-day processing, if my spies are correct. I can't afford to take two days off, and the cheaper airfare is offset by (1) Japanese departure tax for people staying more than one day in Japan, and (2) hotel/capsule fee. In the end, it's a difference of a few dollars and a few hours, but I'd rather get the pain over with quickly.

re: mountains

I'll have to explore those when I have a chance on the weekends. There's so much of Korea I haven't seen, and that includes plenty of locations in and near Seoul.

re: Japanese alcohol

I haven't sipped anything Japanese. The extent of my sippage is beer, wine (white and red), champagne, whisky, and a swig of cooking sherry, which was salty as hell. Oh, yeah-- I did sip some lemon soju once, and thought the stuff was crap. But that probably has less to do with soju's "soju-ness" (soju-ality?) than with a general distaste for alcoholic beverages.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Smoo cutie and other things

I was in the Smoo teachers' office today. The cute Korean teacher was there as well, and she wanted me to join her Korean class, but alas, she teaches in the morning and so do I. She also teaches advanced students, and I don't think my Korean's anywhere near up to snuff. I told her I'd gotten bad grades in listening and reading; she gave me a sort of "Oh, my!" expression of shock and disappointment. Heh. Shocking and disappointing women seems to be a talent of mine, but I suppose that's better than eliciting either terror or spiteful laughter.

No intel from my source about her marital/significant other status. Looks like I'll have to explore this prospect on my own.

I will say this: she looked mighty fine in black slacks and a black, body-hugging turtleneck sweater. I suspect she's got a lot of male admirers.

Got into a strange discussion with a different coworker today regarding the phrase "Korean teacher." The phrase is vague: it could mean "a teacher who is Korean" or "a teacher [of any race/nationality] who teaches Korean." The coworker suggested "Korean language teacher" as a way of quelling the ambiguity. Problem is, we don't go around saying "He's an English language teacher"-- we usually keep it simple: "He's an English teacher." No one understands this to mean "He's a teacher from England." Strange.

I hit Osaka next Wednesday. Might be able to hook up that day with the infamous Justin Yoshida, who'll be off to Bangkok. His flight out is around the same time as my evening flight back to Inch'eon.

Here's what Justin wrote me regarding an earlier post:

Per a recent post of yours:

"My bathroom has a door problem (doesn't close), but it's going to be taken care of."

You use the bathroom door even though you live alone? If so, OK, you are just gross for wanting to seal yourself into a hermetically sealed "birthing" chamber. If not, I would think it to be to your (ahem!) advantage to leave it broken... Who knows when a random beautiful girl will want to use the toilet and force you to battle your conscience in a delightful game of, "Should I take a peek/listen to tinkles or not?"

It's remarks like this that perpetuate the ongoing tension between Koreans and Japanese, you see. I doubt Justin feels any need to apologize for his imputation that I like listening to women piss. Thus the enmity between our peoples continues.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Namsan follies

I went back to Namsan this evening and was relieved to discover that the mountain hadn't suddenly become difficult to hike, despite my four off-days. There were Korean soldiers all over the place; I wondered what that was about. When I hit the top to get my ritual PowerAde from one of the shop dudes, I asked him why there were soldiers here, and he said they were just drilling. I don't know whether he knew this for sure, but that's what he said. I asked him how often they came, and he claimed they came to Namsan about two or three times a year. Can any milbloggers confirm this?

Strange "drill," if that's what it was. The soldiers were stationed at various intersections, acting as if they were manning checkpoints, but they weren't checking anybody or anything. They should've been pulling people out of their cars, demanding IDs from all foreigners, and shooting random tourists to show how serious they were. No such luck, though.

Namsan is also sporting signs saying that the Namsan loop (namsan-sun-hwan) running from the National Theater to the National Library is going to be off limits to vehicles starting on May 1st. I suppose they're talking about the road that runs past the National Theater; the walking trail a bit farther up the mountain, which also runs roughly from the theater to the library, is already closed to motor traffic.

The route I took tonight was the normal one. I won't be doing the Stairs of Doom except perhaps on weekends. The main reason is the amount of time it takes to do the walk: a half-hour extra. I'm not sure I'll have that kind of time once I start teaching next week.

Get this: it's more expensive for me to work out this way than to join a health club.

I buy a special subway ticket called a jeon-gi-gweon that costs about W36,000 (around $36, US). It gives you 60 intra-city trips (i.e., don't try going to Bundang or Inch'eon with it). That's about W600 per trip. Not bad, considering the normal ticket price is a minimum of W900.

One round trip on the subway is therefore W1200. I also buy PowerAde once I hit the top, which means I'm paying another W1600. That's W2800 for each workout. Assuming I do the workout 6 days a week (which was, until the recent skippage, my average), that's about 25 days a month, depending on the length of the month.

W2800 x 25 days = W70,000 per month

A health club membership here runs about W40,000 to W50,000 a month on average (unless you sign up for one of those ridiculous supergyms, which some people do in order to catch glimpses of celebrities). I'm spending too much.

But wait a minute... it's true that I was also buying PowerAde after gym workouts in 2003. If we factor in 25 days' worth of PowerAde (that's a lot of artificial shit I'm pumping into my system), we need to add W1600 x 25 days = W40,000. That means a gym workout plus PowerAde is running me about W80,000-90,000 a month.

So maybe the Namsan routine is cheaper. But not by much.

Smoo has a nearby park where people can walk or jog. I have yet to check it out, but it might become an alternative venue. More on this (and more photos) as I explore the campus and its surroundings.


I feel stupid doing this, but... appears people are having trouble viewing my blog. If you're one of them, then you won't even see this post. That's why I feel stupid.

Here's what I discovered earlier today and just a few minutes ago:

When trying to view my blog through a Mozilla Firefox browser (I'm on a 1999-era Mac G4, crawling along with a 450MHz processor and Mac OS 10.3.8), I get redirected to Blogger's homepage.

When trying to reach my blog through an Internet Explorer browser for Mac, the operation timed out and I was unable to reach my blog.

When trying to reach my blog through the Mac-native Safari browser, I had no trouble accessing the site.

Make of that what you will.

I also noticed that this problem isn't occurring with all Blogspot blogs: I had no trouble visiting Bill Keezer's blog earlier, por ejemplo.

I was eventually able to access my blog using Mozilla, but only by going through the Anonymouse proxy server.

If you're tech-savvy, write me with your guesses as to what's up. For the moment I chalk this up to good ol' Blogger shittiness. Google's takeover hasn't improved the place that much.



It is accomplished.

My floor is clean.

My kitchen is clean.

All horizontal surfaces are clean.

My bathroom has a door problem (doesn't close), but it's going to be taken care of.

I visited the rental office and persuaded the nice lady not to charge me rent until my large payment in June.

I've got internet.

It doesn't get much better than this.

All I have to worry about now:

1. Plane ticket to Osaka; flight will be sometime next week.

2. Lesson plans. Tons of lesson plans. And I need to visit my classrooms, get a few keys, and learn how to work some of the audiovisual equipment.

3. Getting back into the Namsan routine. I've missed the mountain for four days because of moving prep and other matters, and I'm getting antsy. I must say, though, that the conditioning paid off when I moved: instead of being a mass of aching flab and muscle, I felt not a twinge after hauling boxes. Woke up the next day feeling just fine.

Asshole update: the multiple shits I took this morning were all pretty damn painful. Imagine you're giving birth to a demon-baby with well-developed claws, and it's struggling and scrabbling to stay inside the womb while you're pushing as hard as you can.

Cutie update: no reply from my source. Marital status unknown. I'll have to sit in the teacher's room a while and strike up a conversation with the lady.

Now go visit Rory's fine blog and marvel at a rather normal-looking dish.


my asshole becomes a flamethrower:
film at 11

NB: I updated the Ratzinger post, adding some links and quotes. Scroll on down.

I met Charlie the KimcheeGI for a very late dinner on Wednesday evening and had my very first encounter with bul-tak, or "fire chicken."

The bul-tak craze apparently started up some months ago, and bul-tak restaurants have proliferated. I saw my first bul-tak resto in Kangnam while working at EC, but never went inside. I remember asking an EC partner of mine, D, what bul-tak was all about. "Really hot stuff, man," he smiled. I nodded without appreciating what he was saying.

Korean food is spicy by the standards of Americans with wussy palates. It's not spicy to people who've tried anything with habanero peppers in it, nor is it spicy when compared to some African dishes.

But let me say this: bul-tak is spicy.

Charlie wasn't that hungry, so we shared a single W12,000 order of bul-tak. Turned out to be a good idea: I don't think I could ever have finished a full order on my own.* Charlie and I spent some time trying to figure out what kind of pepper they were using; it didn't taste like habanero, and it certainly wasn't the standard gochu chili pepper.

Bul-tak is the dead chicken's revenge. It creeps up on you. You get a metal plate with sizzling, bite-sized pieces of chicken on it. The first few pieces go down easy; they don't seem spicy at all.

Then it hits you, slowly but inevitably, overwhelming you with the same dawning horror that accompanies the realization that your lover's been faking her orgasms for the past year.

Fire chicken. Acid poultry, slathered in Satan's armpit sweat. It's too late now; there's no going back.

You're not given any napkins, but thank Jeebus you get forks. There's no way in hell you could ever touch a piece of bul-tak with your hands. Imagine rubbing your eye after touching bul-tak. Might as well imagine using a dull pocketknife to carve your name into your eyeball.

No napkins. I sweated. Profusely. Wiped vainly at my face. This despite having just come into the restaurant from a very cool evening outside.

Then the snot began to pour out.** I did what I could to stop the pain, eating sweet pickle slices, drinking Coke and water, but nothing seemed to help. I had to ask for a pile of napkins. That helped a bit, at least cosmetically.

I decided I'd need milk-- something to counteract the raging lava flow in my mouth and stomach. We left the resto, I got some, and everything calmed down.

I'm just worried about what's going to happen when I whip out my sawed-off asshole to take my ritual dump in the morning.

Fire chicken. If you're in Seoul and haven't tried it, give it a try. Men: it'll reduce your sperm count and turn your scrotum inside-out. Ladies: it'll make your tits crack and wither your ovaries. But damn, the taste experience will be worth it. Dat's some good chicken.

*Though that might make for an interesting photoblog sometime.

**Out of me, not out of the chicken.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Smoonooz, quick version

I moved out today, which is why I didn't blog much. Bye, Adjoshi. I'm now safely ensconced in my new, lovely digs-- and they are lovely, lemme tell you. The building has a huge storage area in its basement, so all my suitcases and extra boxes can go hibernate down there for the duration (or until I need to take a trip somewhere). I've got enough floor space to slow-dance with a lovely lady, and a kitchen that has enough counter space for squirrel vivisection, potion-stirring, pube-topiary-making, and other kitcheny processes. The bathroom is fine, except for the strangely mounted medicine cabinet door; the hinges should ideally be on the opposite side. I've got a bit more cleaning, scrubbing, and dusting to do, but that's no biggie.

This post is coming to you from a PC-bahng, alas. I didn't have a chance to get hooked up to the building's LAN today, but will do so first thing tomorrow.


Ratzinger gets his dharma name

Burned beyond all recognition after sliding into a pool of lava, sustained by a grotesque, wheezing iron lung, and covered in the blood-red raiments of a newly minted Dark Lord of the Catholics, the former Joseph Ratzinger, rechristened Darth Benedict XVI, lies on a cold metal slab as the last piece of his armor-- an imposing helmet-- is mechanically fitted and hermetically sealed over his ancient face. Their work now complete, the medical droids step back. The slab tilts menacingly, and Darth Benedict, whose nightmarish breathing will remind frightened Catholics of a severely emphysemic aunt, rises to the vertical and steps into the light. Outside the chamber, the worldwide media await their chance to meet the new Dark Lord. Benedict allows himself a few calming, mechanized breaths; he takes up his deadly, red-bladed lightcrozier and heads out, his mind focused on his one sacred task: the eradication of all non-Catholic life forms on the planet.

Not only did I miss out on the blessed event, but fucking Blogger also ate my long, long post on Ratzinger's elevation to the papacy. Murphy's Law: I hadn't copied and pasted the post into WordPad, therefore Blogger ate it.

Essential points:

1. Ratzinger won't have nearly the interest in interreligious dialogue that JP2 had.

2. Ratzinger is likely to view his new office as a mere extension of his previous job. If this is the case, he'll be quietly clamping down on voices of dissent currently active in the Vatican. Non-Catholics might not realize this, but such voices do exist. The Vatican is huge, complex, and not of one mind on many matters.

3. Watch how Ratzinger handles Nigeria, a country in the throes of Muslim-Christian violence. This will clue you in on what he's all about.

Damn, what a shame. The original post was long, featuring quotes from bloggers, news articles, and snippets from the Vatican documents Dominus Iesus and Nostra Aetate. Sorry to give you the truncated version.

UPDATE: Let me see if I can fill in some blanks here.

The Dominus Iesus document can be found here. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for over 20 years; Dominus Iesus is a CDF document. Ratzinger was the major impetus behind it.

The document caused a big stink-- while technically consistent with previous theological pronouncements, many Catholics and non-Catholics perceived a strong whiff of exclusivism. Read about the stink here.

The article mentions Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who in 2000 was head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Cassidy gave a talk at Catholic University in late 2000, not long after Dominus Iesus came out in September. A laid-back Aussie, Cassidy had some, uh, polite differences of opinion with Ratzinger and Dominus Iesus. This is an example of how different parts of the Vatican can often find themselves in disagreement.

Back in the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council produced Nostra Aetate ("in our time"), a much more conciliatory writ than Dominus Iesus (2000). Nostra Aetate can be found here.

Here's a snippet from Vatican 2's Nostra Aetate:

We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 John 4:8).

No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to "maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.

By contrast, here's a typical snippet from the confrontational Dominus Iesus:

In inter-religious dialogue as well, the mission ad gentes "today as always retains its full force and necessity". "Indeed, God 'desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim 2:4); that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the promptings of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary". Inter-religious dialogue, therefore, as part of her evangelizing mission, is just one of the actions of the Church in her mission ad gentes. Equality, which is a presupposition of inter-religious dialogue, refers to the equal personal dignity of the parties in dialogue, not to doctrinal content, nor even less to the position of Jesus Christ — who is God himself made man — in relation to the founders of the other religions. Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

You will have noticed that, in Dominus Iesus, interreligious dialogue is "part of [the Church's] evangelizing mission." Discuss among yourselves.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Item 1: l'exode

I'm moving on Wednesday morning, finally ripping myself away from the clutches of my well-intentioned-but-control-freakish Adjoshi. I suppose he's jumping for joy: renovation can proceed at maximum warp now, Captain. The Death Star will be completed on schedule.

Unfortunately, I'm getting the impression that Adjoshi's renovations are a bit like George Lucas's alterations of the original Star Wars movies: he's changing all the wrong things. I understand and agree with redoing the upstairs floor; it was in pretty rough shape. I also agree it's a good move to renovate that skanky bathroom. But what about the damn walls, man? The walls are ancient wood paneling and need to be restored, but it doesn't look as though that's gonna happen. And outside, there's the problem with the courtyard, which should be paved over instead of inundated with gravel. And are you gonna do anything about the prehistoric wiring? Or the atherosclerotic pipes?

Ah, well. Not my problem. Not my money. And thank God I'm not in charge.

Item 2: que linda eres

I have to find out who this lady is, who so brightens our shared office space with her open expression and winning smile. She's a Korean teacher at Smoo (i.e., I could take lessons from her if the schedule matches and she teaches intermediate-level students), and we'll be sharing the same office space. No, this isn't the "peeking lady" I mentioned before (though she was gorgeous); this is someone else. Not gorgeous, but easily beautiful.

With my luck, she'll be married or have an iron-pumping boyfriend who provides her with trans-tantric sexual überbliss three times a day. But damn, she's something. Damn, damn, damn. Timing on this stinks, since I'm still raw from my pre-Easter go-around, but if I've learned anything from the cold, gloomy, and negative X*, it's that it's healthier to focus on the beautiful and the positive, and to move your life forward. Hope, like morning wood, springs eternal.

This astounds me. I'll be working with someone who looks like that? She'd better be a nice person, dammit. I'm sick of the cruel ones. But I'm gonna stay positive about this: even if she's married... who resents the presence a pretty flower, right? Best to find out early, so I can institute my Look But Don't Touch policy with only a twinge of disappointment, instead of experiencing the scrotum-torquing sadness that comes after wasting months on fruitless labor.

Ahhhhh, women. Despite recent experiences, I still contend that women are works of art, each one a source of unique beauty. This is what it means to be male: to have your teeth kicked out and balls ripped off, and to grin through the pain, shambling eagerly forward like a toothless, nutless zombie, hungry for more punishment.

And ladies: it should be noted that many men are fantastic sources of fromunda cheese.

I need to find out the answer to the is-Cutie-married question quickly. Time is precious. Luckily, I know just whom to ask tomorrow. I'm hoping for positive info: didn't see any rings on her fingers... then again, in Korea, that doesn't mean anything. Married people here routinely neglect their wedding rings, which don't always carry the same significance for them as they do for us.

I'm guessing that my next post will be from home tomorrow. Home. Where it'll be quiet. And the internet service will be free. And I won't have to hear that goddamn computer basketball game that's so popular these days in the PC-bahngs.

Now I gotta go home and pack. The truck arrives early in the morning.

*X, if you're reading this, you know I don't wish you ill, but you also know I'm right. As long as you carry your sadness and anger around with you, you'll succeed only in remaining easily depressed, easily stressed, and constantly annoyed for no good reason. That stuff all comes from inside you. You're smart, talented, beautiful, and could be doing whatever you want. If you feel trapped or resigned to your "fate," well... it's a trap of your own making. You can unmake it. I hope you do. End bloviation.


et non pas le pari de Pascal

The AtDelphi people are betting on me again, and this time they've phrased the question more precisely. I did notice another possible problem, though: I'm based in Seoul, and my posts reflect Seoul time. We're 13 hours ahead of Washington, DC here. How is Zeus reckoning time when he says "tomorrow"?

Sorry, man. I like your betting site (even if you did kick off my "fetuseater" screen name-- I can no longer log in), but these little problems tickle me because I keep imagining the bettors trying to wangle more money out of you, finding every idiotic loophole they can to raise their scores. It's a bit like when I was a high school French teacher in the early 90s, and grade-grubbing students would come up to me with perceived "inconsistencies" in my grading in an attempt to cadge an extra percentage point or two. Sorta lame, those grubbers.

Anyway, I hope your site is making you scads of cash. I'm guessing you're a devotee of The 48 Laws of Power.


muchas Jerry Garcias, dude

Courtesy of R, one of my ex-coworkers at EC, comes this link to a site devoted to Korean Buddhism. Looks to be a fine resource, and I'm sticking this link on my sidebar.


Monday, April 18, 2005

postal scrotum: China

In reference to my inexpert musings, Andy writes:

Hey Kevin,

Focusing on China for a minute....

Speaking of crap from the Commies in China, you wrote, "China's pissed off and demanding an apology of Japan." What the news in the US left off was the follow-up headline "The 10-Million Chinese killed by Cultural Revolution demand an apology". I'm told Chairman Mao couldn't be reached for comment.

Also being missed by everyone else, is the rallying point that China now has in Japan. Sure, the Chinese didn't like 'em before - but this latest round of protests is being condoned (read: encouraged and fanned) by the Commie Gov't. Just like the crappy leaders of the Middle East could take the heat off themselves by blaming the Evil Jews™, so too do the Commies in China™ blame the Evil Japs™. For a better look, check out the tank cartoon at Cox & Forkum (

You're spot on about the 'letting go of anger' thought. I was talking to a friend last week about the China protests, and he complained the Japanese wouldn't apologize. My stance is - the Japanese who didn't do it have nothing to apologize for. Prime Minister Koizumi hasn't attacked China. Most current Japanese citizens weren't alive during WWII - let alone made decisions in it.

As I said at the time, "But the bad guys in this scenario are dead. So are most all of the victims. We shouldn't forget the events, but telling a bunch of folks "Some people from your country who knew your grandparents did bad things" isn't going to help. Which doesn't make it right, but letting the Communist Chinese label other folks as 'bad' is worse than the pot calling the kettle black."

If a round of excuses is going to start, the Commies need to start with their 1960s extermination of their fellow Chinese WELL before we get to the WWII apologies. And the hell I'm apologizing for a few Spanish soldiers kicking ass in South America a few hundred years ago. I won't even apologize to bed-wetting Canadians when they whine, "Bush=Hitler". If someone has a problem with my country's leadership (past or present) take it up with them, I'm not the post office.


Thanks for the email, man. I'll respectfully express dissent over "bed-wetting Canadians," though, since they've got troops in Afghanistan who are putting their asses on the line along with American soldiers. I might not agree with certain Canadian geopolitical opinions, but my personal encounters with Canucks (which have included plenty of political discussions and disagreements) have all been reasonable, civil, and interesting.

Yeh, an' dey fock yew ahp, mon.

Aside from that, your other points are well taken.

UPDATE: Oh, dammit, lemme be more specific. I have nothing to say to anyone who resorts to the "Bush = Hitler" nonsense. None of the Canadians I know are silly enough to do that, so if we're talking about a certain subset of Canucks who're doing the same thing as a certain subset of leftist French folks, Americans, and others, then yeah, those fuckers are bed-wetters. And I don't say that because I'm a fan of Bush; I'm not. But it should be plainly obvious that such shrillness doesn't convince.

Yeah, yeah. Bush equals Hitler. Va te branler.



Damn, that took over seven hours.

I just finished proofreading a 22-page single-spaced document, a long paper on feminism's academic impact by a prof at Ehwa University. Hope she enjoys my minor corrections; the paper was already well-written, but I had to root around a bit, plucking out and putting in articles, tweaking the style here and there... and then there was the monster bibliography, which arrived in a severely mutated state and needed extensive cosmetic surgery.

Nuts. And I wanted to hit Namsan tonight. Fuck, and I'm behind on my other work now.

At least I'm gonna be a bit richer. And a bit fatter for not having exercised.

Before I go: a quick shout-out to Dr. Hodges (a.k.a. Jeff), whom I had the great pleasure of meeting today for lunch. Yes, ladies, he does indeed wear an interesting cap.


on politics

A blogger asked me how liberal-sounding she came off on her blog. I told her, without rancor because I don't consider myself a droitiste or a gauchiste, that she sounded pretty left-leaning.

Terms like "left," "right," "liberal," and "conservative" are labels open to discussion.

George Bush, whom I didn't vote for and whose war I was against*, isn't a genuine "conservative" according to the traditional definition of an American conservative. He's not for minimal government involvement in people's lives, nor is he preaching a gospel of fiscal discipline, etc. The bizarre point to which he holds is Daddy's line about taxes, though he seems to know better than to say "no new taxes!", instead offering the common people useless refunds that get spent in a week.

Clinton wasn't a classic liberal, either. He acted unilaterally in Kosovo (people forget this when complaining about Bush's supposed unilateralism at the UN); he took the idea of a balanced federal budget from the Republicans, and history bears out that he was a hell of a lot more fiscally conservative than the current Bush is. Clinton did what many smart politicians do and played to the center-- something Bush doesn't bother to do because the right currently controls all three branches of government (itself a scary thought; I hate large monopolies), and the mood of the general population still tends rightward.

So it's fair to ask: Who's a lib-Dem and who's a con-Rep? These terms are all in flux.

I don't have a party affiliation. It's hard for me to imagine voting party-line. Both parties make arguments that have merit. I don't like it when I hear dogmatic dismissals of an argument simply because it originates from a certain party. If a crazy homeless guy says, "The sun is shining now," and the sun is in fact shining now, then he's right, no matter how crazy he is.

(Philosophers call this the "genetic fallacy," the dismissal of an argument or claim simply because of where it comes from-- its genesis-- instead of addressing the elements of the argument/claim itself.)

The lib-Dems worry me sometimes with their vision of government-sponsored social programs and welfare... I see little evidence that government-sponsored anything is beyond mediocre, and that's from living in the DC area most of my life. I also think that, as the "big tent" party, the Dems have trouble finding a coherent platform, and this is one reason why they lost the election this time around. The Reps were scarily on message.

The con-Reps worry me because so many of them seem to be in thrall to the religious nuts in the party base. (Many con-Reps beg to differ, of course, and the ones on my blog's sidebar are not religious nuts.) I think the war has created a general wave of public support for Bush, who may feel he has license to push for things like a marriage amendment, a flag burning amendment**, and so on. I do worry about creeping civil rights issues emanating from the Ashcrofts among us. Governmental influence isn't shrinking under this president. I also worry about the polarization of the State Department and the Pentagon during Bush's first term, and wonder how much better things will be during this second term.

At the same time, both party ideologies have merit. The Dems would argue for minimal government intrusion into reproductive issues. I'd agree, even though I'm no fan of abortion***. They'd also argue for a more compassionate stance toward the poor and otherwise disadvantaged. I agree here, too. The Reps would (generally) argue for less federal government and more activity at the state and local level. This makes sense to me. I can't stand any move toward Big Brotherism, toward centralized authority on a massive scale (and with a third of a billion people, America is massive-- quite a handful for a single government to manage). The Reps also espouse a firm foreign policy that doesn't pussy-foot issues. I have no problem with this. I think Kerry would have put a suave spin on our foreign policy, but he also would have opened the door for the Islamic version of bullshit like Clinton's 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea-- a completely useless treaty the North Koreans were violating even before the ink was dry. Or, hey-- like Clinton's equally useless Israel-Palestine "diplomatic victory." Or his failure in Haiti. Or the clusterfuck in Somalia.

[Side note: this isn't to say that Bush has been adept at foreign policy. I think his unsubtle approach is correct in Korea: Asians might not admit it, but they respect the bluntness. On the other hand, our visions of democratizing the Middle East don't strike me as completely realistic. Maybe democratization is a desirable outcome, but I do tend to think that democracy has to evolve organically, not be imposed from above. Conservatives like to counter with, "But look at how we changed Germany and Japan and South Korea!"-- to which I usually roll my eyes and say, "Yeah-- have you been to Japan or South Korea? Just how Americanized do you think the Japanese and South Koreans really are? All that shit is window dressing. Cultural fundamentals haven't changed much."]

I lean somewhat rightward in terms of foreign policy, somewhat leftward in terms of domestic social policy (homosexual marriage, abortion rights, Camille Paglia-style feminism, etc.), and am a flaming religious liberal-- more of the John Hick variety than the John Shelby Spong type. I'm a centrist in terms of economic policy, mainly because I don't know enough about micro- and macroeconomics to argue anything specific. Still learning.

I am, however, leery of things like affirmative action and politically correct formulations that are more about making people feel good instead of addressing brute realities. I'm no utopianist: French philosopher Jean-François Revel is right to rail against liberal visions of ultimate human improvement. Not gonna happen. The human psyche hasn't evolved for thousands of years, and isn't likely to without genetic tampering. Why else am I able to understand the motivations of characters in a play by Sophocles? All the violence, laziness, venality, and pettiness that were part of the human condition then are still part of it now, which simply fits the Darwinian paradigm. We haven't stopped being primates who act according to dominance hierarchies. We should do what we can to assure equal opportunity, but we can't possibly assure equality of outcome.

And that's why, economically and politically speaking, I'm convinced that a marxist vision of society will never bear fruit: it refuses to take seriously certain immutable facts of human nature, chief among them being the roles of competition and hierarchy in human society. The universe itself exhibits unevenness and clumping. You march against the Tao at your peril. Redistributivism isn't inherently bad (capitalists do teach their kids the virtues of sharing), but it's not workable on a large scale for largely ontological reasons. The marxist attempt to level the playing field always-- always-- leads to "social experiments" in which people are rounded up and shot en masse in the name of the Greater Good****. This is the outcome when government thinks it knows what's good for you, when power trickles down to the people instead of up from them.

Democracy and capitalism aren't perfect by any means, but they're a hell of a lot better than hubristic redistributivist visions that ultimately lead to a more pernicious version of social inequality than do capitalist models. Look at the difference between the Chinese government and the Chinese citizenry. Are they living as good, communist equals? Or how about Cuba? Do you think Fidel has much in common with the man on the Cuban street? Or what about the Soviet Union in the early 1980s? Or Western Europe's faltering economy now, an economy that follows a quasi-socialist or outright socialist paradigm? Or North Korea, the saddest case of all? Any shining examples of total equality (in the redistributivist sense) in these places?

Socialist and communist systems don't make society robust. They don't improve the collective human condition. It's individuals, acting by choice (not by governmental mandate) and in concert, who improve things. The legislation of compassion may be well-intended, but it leads very quickly to large-scale disaster*****.

Unbridled capitalism is bad, too, but no country practices that as a national economic policy. You can find pockets of it, of course, such as at Namdaemun Market in Seoul: capitalism at its purest and wildest. But there's no way we could live in a world totally dominated by market forces. We need controls, we need an antimonopoly sentiment to balance the urge to monopolize (I'm thinking of someone like Bill Gates and his behemoth Microsoft, for instance). The potential chaos of freedom has to go hand in hand with the rule of law. Novelty needs to be balanced with tradition. A free market can't be totally free.

Left/right, lib/con, Dem/Rep, red/blue... these are all terms with wide, vague semantic fields. There's plenty of room for discussion about specifics, and little need, in American society, to create rigid conceptual dichotomies. Discussion, dynamic tension-- these things are important in a healthy culture. They can't happen if one party always dominates. They can't happen if both sides of the aisle become echo chambers, each group communicating only within itself and only rarely reaching across the aisle.

I suspect, though, that many thinking Americans have had the same insights I have. They might belong to a particular party or alignment, but they're reasonable enough to see that the other side also often makes sense. The fact that such reasonable people exist gives me hope.

*See any number of previous posts on this blog about why I nevertheless feel we have to support the current project. It boils down to this: a complete pullout at this stage would mean something even nastier filling the power vacuum. That, and there may be some positive signs emerging in the midst of the chaos. The news coming out of Iraq isn't all bad, as some would have us believe.

**A flag is a symbol. I personally have no desire to burn my own country's flag, nor do I understand people who do. But as Carlin said, "I leave symbols for the symbol-minded." His point is well taken. To make the argument that the American flag should be protected from burning, you have to sacralize the flag, then codify its sacrality as a law. For many Americans, the flag is indeed a sacred object. It isn't for me. American ideals are sacred, but I tend to think those ideals are shared by more than Americans. No matter: my point is that ideals can't be burned. We keep them in our hearts. (I hear some smartass joking, "Yeah, but hearts can be burned!")

***How many women really are fans of abortion? The ones arguing for choice are doing so not because they just love to go to the clinic, but because they feel a safe and sanitary option should be available to women. I can't think of any woman who'd claim abortion is a pleasant, desirable experience. Pro-choice arguments shouldn't be misunderstood like that.

****Please don't cite China as the happy exception. Yes, it's true that China's not a truly communist state, and it's true that China's economy has been shifting warily toward a market paradigm, but then you see shit like this and get reminded that that doesn't happen in Western industrialized nations. We've got random deaths from crime and accidents, but when was the last time you heard about Canadian Mounties lining up and shooting Quebecois separatists? And please don't insult me by implying that police brutality in Western countries is the moral equivalent of what totalitarian states do. You know damn well that's not true. Must I list reasons why?

*****At the same time, American conservatives are often too quick to accuse their liberal compatriots of being "commies," when all they're talking about is the regulation of market forces that might have the potential to run rampant. A desire to raise taxes by a fraction of a percent doesn't make one a fire-breathing communist.


a tremor in the Force

Inexpert speculation follows. Please ignore in favor of actually reading the news and some history books. Please read if your purpose is to be entertained. I've done no research to back up the claims and conjectures I make in this post. You've been warned.

East Asian current events in a nutshell:

North Korea's pissed off and demanding an apology of Japan.
Japan's pissed off and demanding an apology of North Korea.
South Korea's pissed off and demanding an apology of Japan.
China's pissed off and demanding an apology of Japan.
Japan's pissed off and demanding an apology of China.

There you have it.

Notice that "Japan" ends up in all the above sentences. Note, too, that Japanese conservatives are pissed off about the above sentences. Maybe the Japanbloggers know more, but I sense that Japan is going to be remilitarizing soon. It'll take its cue from Korea's inexplicable* estrangement from America and move closer to America-- two huge economic and technological powers acting as a counterweight (shit, that term again) to China's growing economic and military might.

Lots of variables, though. Always in motion is the future.

Is China's growth real, or just a bubble? Japan's own bubble burst a while back and Korea went through the shame of the IMF crisis, but both economies, though battered, are doing fine overall from what I see.

Also: can China's growth be considered one phenomenon? China's huge in terms of both surface area and population, and growth isn't occurring everywhere equally.

And what about China's hegemonic intentions toward Taiwan, or its possibly hegemonic intentions toward North Korea? What about South Korea's largely blind eye toward China's hungry stare? Hmmm.

All the above makes Japan nervous, and that's why I think it's going to seriously consider remilitarization sometime in the next decade. This will give North Korea something new to think about. I suspect it'll also drive North and South Korea closer together, because both share a deep resentment of Japan. This, in turn, will produce more nationalistic sentiment in Korea that will help force out the American/UN troop presence here. Many Americans think we should leave, anyway. (I agree.)

North Korea will continue its nuke program with renewed fervor. The South will tacitly condone this, probably more through omission of action than through openly supportive rhetoric. A remilitarized Japan, a militarily powerful China, and a nuclearized Korean peninsula will make for a very tense situation, largely because no one is willing to let go of history and move forward. I'm not condemning that fact: I'm sympathetic to older Koreans who remember the horrors of Japanese occupation with anger. They have a right to their feelings, even though times have changed. But the fact itself-- the attachment to anger-- leads to current difficulties.

Japan will be thinking, initially, about self-defense against NK nukes. This, however might expand to the notion of self-defense in general, and at this point it's hard to blame the Japanese for thinking that way, what with China flexing its muscles. I don't see the situation unraveling into chaos anytime soon, but if someone were to make a move, I suspect it'd be China moving against Taiwan and testing American resolve to help Taiwan out. This plays against the tension that exists between American political rhetoric-- the One China policy we ostensibly uphold-- and American economic and military interests, which are heavily interwoven with Taiwan's.

But however the details unfold, my lone prediction is Japanese remilitarization-- or at least the first steps toward such remilitarizaton-- within ten years.

What's unfortunate is that I also think we need Korea siding with us and Japan against China, should it come to a radical polarization of East Asia, but I don't know how likely that is. Korea's still making doe-eyes at the Middle Kingdom.

Now write me some emails and tell me I'm full of shit.

*Well, not really inexplicable. I use the word to express bemusement more than to express ignorance of causes.